INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana’s influential power companies urged lawmakers on Wednesday to move
forward with a bill that would sharply curtail a benefit available to solar
panel owners, even though it does not pose a current threat to their bottom
Association President Mark Maassel told a House committee that phasing out a
state program that allows homeowners, schools and churches to harness the
sun’s bill-lowering potential would add a “level of certainty” to the
provides only about 1 percent of the country’s energy, and an even smaller
percentage in Indiana. But the industry’s recent rapid growth has
traditional power utilities worried that it could eventually eat away at
Maassel’s group is
pushing a proposal by Republican Sen. Brandt Hershman that would overhaul a
process called net metering, which allows solar panel owners to feed surplus
energy to the grid in exchange for credit on their bill.
Under state law,
solar panel owners are compensated at a retail rate, which utilities want to
reduce - drastically.
would establish a new net metering rate in five years, which would hew more
closely to the wholesale cost of energy. The measure would allow people who
purchase solar panels before to continue collecting the current rate for a
decade, and those who buy solar panels before December would be
grandfathered in for 30 years.
The cost and
efficiency of solar technology has improved in recent years, but solar
proponents contend the bill would reduce the return on surplus energy by
nearly three-fold. They said that would likely kill the emerging industry by
making it difficult, if not impossible, to break even on an expensive
Hershman said those concerns will be moot if the technology continues to
going to improve, or it will be disproved,” Maassel said. “If the technology
is wonderful, it is going to be able to compete on its own.”
The measure also
comes as utilities across the U.S. are increasingly turning to solar,
building massive solar farms, including several in Indiana.
“We want the
benefits of solar and we want it at the lowest cost possible. Those
(large-scale projects) make more sense in today’s world than the rooftop
panels,” said Maassel, whose group represents Duke Energy, Vectren and
Indiana Michigan Power, among other utilities.
Without the bill,
Maassel said a spike in net metering could tax grid infrastructure while
eating into profit margins. That would eventually lead to higher costs for
customers, he said.
“We’re in a fairly
advantageous spot. We have an issue, we don’t have a crisis,” Maassel said.
But there is reason
to doubt a crisis would even develop.
Under current law,
utilities can deny the benefit to new people once 1 percent of their energy
portfolio comes from net metering.
Jr., a former U.S. congressman from California who testified against the
bill Wednesday, said the proposal is an effort by utility companies’ to cut
down on consumer choice while preserving their stranglehold on the market.
good, drives prices down and quality up - and it’s the American way,” said
Goldwater, who is the son of former Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater.
“Unfortunately the utilities have a monopoly. They don’t like competition,
they don’t like choice.”
The House committee
did not vote on the bill Wednesday. Committee Chairman, GOP Rep. Dave Ober
of Albion, said he expects to make significant changes to the measure before
voting on it sometime next week.